how Warren Buffett solves problems big and small

“Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward. What happens if all our plans go wrong? Where don’t we want to go, and how do you get there? Instead of looking for success, make a list of how to fail instead – through sloth, envy, resentment, self-pity, entitlement, all the mental habits of self-defeat. Avoid these qualities and you will succeed. Tell me where I’m going to die, that is, so I don’t go there.”

– Charlie Munger

The true genius behind Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger? Their ability to look at problems differently than the way you or I look at them. Their success is derived from the fact that they’ve not learned how to solve difficult business problems, but instead that they’ve learned how to avoid them in the first place.

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This mental model is known as inversion.

It works by taking an idea and flipping the starting point. And it works for even the simplest of challenges – like figuring out how to get the gym. If your goal is to go to the gym five days a week, don’t just assume you’ll get there. Invert. Think about all the obstacles that stand in your of getting to the gym every day and then pick them off one by one in order to avoid them.

Like Munger and Buffet, I don’t look for success directly, but instead figure out how to avoid failure. Doing so helps me identify the obstacles that are likely in my future and solve them before they even occur.

So here’s a tip: Imagine the worst-case scenario and how that might happen and then do everything in your power to avoid it.

What are some ways you rely on the mental model of inversion to achieve your goals?

– DC

PS You can read more about inversion in my Inc. Magazine column here.